CAPE ELIZABETH — Karla Levesque tackled the winding staircase Saturday afternoon and then hesitated, but finally climbed out on the narrow catwalk outside the tower of Portland Head Light.

For the most part, she stayed pressed up against the side of the tower, 80 feet above the crashing surf, tightly gripping the railing or holding onto a support pole, but she managed to let go of things a few times to snap pictures.

For someone afraid of heights, taking on Portland Head Light is quite a challenge. But the rush of overcoming a fear surely made it worth it, right?

“I’ve done a lot of high things, but I haven’t conquered anything,” said Levesque as she flexed her hands to loosen them up after having clenched them for 15 minutes while up in the tower. “It was awesome but it was high.”

Levesque was one of a select 300 or so who managed to get into the 1791 lighthouse and spend a few minutes soaking in a breathtaking view of Ram Island Ledge Light just offshore, the coast of Cape Elizabeth and the other two lights nearby, visible to the south.

Directly below, the surf crashed on the rocks, including the site the of the wreck of the Annie C. Maguire, which ran aground near the light on Christmas Eve 1886 in a terrible snowstorm — or a light fog and suggestions that drinking onboard led to navigation errors, depending on which story you care to believe.

The occasion that drew Levesque to the light, along with her husband and son, was Maine Lighthouse Day, during which the Coast Guard opens up its lighthouses in the state to visitors.

Most of the lights, including Portland Head, are off-limits during the year, at least as far as ascending and taking in the view.

People lined up at Portland Head as soon as Fort Williams Park opened shortly before 6 a.m., said Ken Caprio, the Flotilla 21 commander for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which was helping to organize things at the light Saturday. The auxiliary gave out 12 tickets for each 15 minute block from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and let those without tickets fill out the groups of a dozen if there were any no-shows. Among those who waited in that line, Caprio said, were folks from the cruise ship Explorer of the Seas, which docked in Portland about the time the tickets were running out around 9 a.m.

The Levesques love lighthouses and made sure they got tickets to go inside this year, said Dan Levesque, who was still marveling over the view with son Ryan while Karla Levesque was unclenching.

There was some grumbling about the ticket process, Caprio said, which the auxiliary is still tweaking. Caprio said the lighthouse would stay open to accommodate those in line for fill-in tickets and the event was running 15 to 20 minutes late by early afternoon.

Dan Levesque said the family got tickets, then visited nearby Bug Light and Spring Point Light in South Portland, while waiting to climb.

He said they also considered putting in a bid on Ram Island Ledge Light, which was sold at a government auction last week for $190,000.

“Yeah, we thought about it,” Levesque said, “for about five seconds.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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